Since the death of Queen Elizabeth II last week, Kris Manjapra has been thinking a lot about a special moment in her childhood.
He told CNN that in 1990, when he was 12 years old and living with his family in Calgary, Canada, the Queen visited the city. The students of his school were ordered to gather by the side of the road so they could watch his cavalcade and receive the wave.
“I was an immigrant kid in a very white city with my parents. We were struggling as new immigrants,” said Manjapra, a professor of history at Tufts University in Massachusetts, where his research focuses on, among other things, the critical study of race. and colonialism. “And I remember thinking how weird it was that we (students) were being used as props in some kind of competition.”
Manjapra, who is of mixed African and Indian descent, was born in the Bahamas in 1978, a year after the Queen’s Silver Jubilee tour of the country. And like many others here in the US with roots in Britain’s former Caribbean colonies, he has had a complicated reaction to the death of the Queen, someone indelibly embedded in the history of empire. For them, the past week has been marked less by frustration than by grief that there is little room in the narrative to engage with the legacy of British colonialism in the region.
“It’s striking to me how much energy goes into grieving the loss of a person,” Manjapra said. “Certainly, the loss of a person should be mourned, especially by their family. But why is it so inaccessible to feel remorse and sorrow for all the harm done on that person’s behalf?”
“Since then, I have grown resentment towards those people who govern my island,” Bartlett told CNN.
Like many others with ties to the Caribbean, Bartlett was deeply moved by Barbados’ decision to ditch the monarchy, and hopes that the rest of the region’s former imperial possessions will continue to do so.
“I was cheering,” he said. “I think (transition to a republic) will come up in a referendum in Jamaica at some point. There are still people who think it’s good to be ruled by the British. But as far as I’m concerned, Jamaica has to sink or swim on its own.”
A longstanding enmity
To understand the Queen’s mixed heritage in the eyes of many Caribbean people and their descendants, let’s review some of the region’s history.
Social and political challenges have persisted even since the middle of the 20th century, since the pioneering period when many British colonies declared independence.
Manjapra emphasized Britain’s carelessness in the Caribbean during the decade.
“There was a kind of distancing from the mess that colonialism created, leaving the Caribbean deeply in debt, without resources, with very weak institutions — things that it still faces there today,” he said.
“Until 2015, the British state was paying this debt,” said Manjapra. “A deeply immoral practice was going on and it finally came to light a few years ago. But the Queen remained silent. The Queen’s silence on so many issues related to justice for people of color in Britain and the former colonies — I can.” don’t read it as duty or dignity or “apolitical” as That silence was a very political act, and essential for the mechanism of the British state.”
The royal family has acknowledged but remained unapologetic about Britain’s many imperial crimes and their lasting consequences.
“An apology would be nice, but … nothing,” Bartlett said.
“Denial won’t make anything go away”
The Queen’s death could open a new chapter in the Caribbean.
New York University law professor Melissa Murray, whose family is from Jamaica, recently noted on Twitter that the Queen’s death could spark crucial debate about Commonwealth ties in the region.
“We don’t deal with painful histories by ignoring or denying them, or trying to find a solution immediately,” he said. “We deal with painful histories by acknowledging their presence with us in our lives and in our world, and then engaging in discussion, creating opportunities for meaningful conversations about what the future of healing might look like.”
Doing all this, of course, takes time and effort and investment.
“Honestly, it’s a conversation about reparations,” Manjapra said. “Reparations are on the table, and they must be on the table to deal with what happened and what continues to develop.”
To put it a little more plainly, he added, “colonial conditions are not in the past; they persist, and continue to reinforce the racial caste system.”